Archive for the 'Inspiration' Category

Storytelling and Bookmaking at 826

So, I’ve been doing some pretty cool stuff at 826LA! Never heard of it?


Well, once upon a time, there was a Pirate Supply Store located at 826 Valencia Street in San Francisco. Little did anyone know there was a secret room behind the store and in this secret room, amazing things were happening (kids were getting help with their homework after school and going there for field trips during the day for awesome writing workshops and all kinds of other cool stuff). Still, to this day, amazing things are happening at 826 Valencia and at locations all over the United States by way of “826 National.”

In the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, there is a Time Travel Mart (a mini-mart for all your time travel needs). It’s behind this mini-mart where I’m getting involved as a volunteer and working to get kids inspired about writing and storytelling.


Mostly, I’ve worked with kids six and seven years old in the Storytelling and Bookmaking field trips. What 826 has designed for these field trips is truly a bit of genius. The kids are told that they are visiting “Barnacle & Barnacle publishers, run by Mr. and Mrs. Barnacle, and thank goodness Mr. Barnacle isn’t in the office today, because he is the meanest boss in the world.” Lo and behold, partway into introductions, Mr. Barnacle’s grumpy voice breaks in over a loud speaker and the pressure is then on to create as many original stories as there are kids in the room, in order to please Mr. Barnacle and keep the lowly Barnacle & Barnacle employees from losing their jobs.

So if there are 20 kids in the room, how will they get 20 original stories? They all write 3 pages as a group (with some help from a “grownup” or two), bringing the story to a cliffhanger, and then each of them writes their own version of page 4, creating 20 unique endings.

IMG_3305.JPG copy

My friend Eric Layer pictured here at far left, co-leading an 826 field trip.

That’s not the whole story, however, and this is where I come in. While they are writing each of their first three pages as a group, I am illustrating those pages — live. I have to time my drawing so that I have just enough information to create an image and have it done by the time they finish their page. It goes pretty quickly and sometimes elements of the story change halfway through a page, so I have to keep my ears wide open while I’m working.

After they’ve finished their own endings (which myself and the other volunteers and staff help out with), they have lunch. By the time they’re done with lunch, their books are printed and bound, illustrations included, each student receiving a copy with their own unique ending and their author picture on the back cover. Like magic!



Here are just some of the “illustrious” titles I’ve had the pleasure of working on: “Eek! No, I Am Nice,” “Shark vs. Coyotes: An Ice Cream Contest,”  ”The Adventures of Mr. Squishyman and Poison Ivy Fairy Girl and the Wicked Lollipop Lunchbox,” and “Watch Out For Mr. Couch!”


A section of "Watch Out For Mr. Couch!"


Mermaid Man and his sidekick Michael the Dolphin confront the evil Mr. Couch's super couch in "Watch Out For Mr. Couch!"


Mr. Squishyman and Poison Ivy Fairy Girl fly through space in their flying saucer made of pizza in "The Adventures of Mr. Squishyman and Poison Ivy Fairy Girl and the Wicked Lollipop Lunchbox."


Alien shark brothers Danny and Sal live in hamburger houses in "Shark vs. Coyotes: An Ice Cream Contest."

Threadless, not Thankless

Many thanks to everyone who scored my tee-shirt design “The Write Stuff” on Threadless! It ended up with a fairly respectable 2.84 from 585 votes (I saw it get up to 2.88 at the highest point).

This is definitely an above average score and I’ve seen some designs go to print that scored lower, so it’s certainly possible that this could go “all the way.”

And now the waiting period begins. Judging by what I’ve seen on Threadless, it could be 2-3 months before it gets selected or… I could be faced with the unending deafening silence of never being printed — which is an equal possibility. So, we shall see. You can be sure that if/when it gets selected, I will begin another round of promotion to get everyone I know to buy it!

In the meantime, the image can still be used for non-apparel. Having submitted my first design to Threadless has also been really positive, because it’s gotten me out of a sort of internet-rut, where I’ve shied away from putting myself out there. It’s inspired me to wonder, if I were to create more designs for Threadless, what would they be? And at least in a small way, it’s helped me revisit the potential of the internet for creative enterprise and as a source of motivation.

The Write Stuff, A Sketch + Colors

We are approaching the final hours to score my design “The Write Stuff” on Threadless! I’ve gotten some pretty positive responses on this design (including enthusiastic words from friends at 826 National) and it will be really exciting if this is selected for print, but I’m calling on everyone to give it that extra push it needs to really stand out by scoring it a FIVE (if you haven’t done so already). Don’t have a Threadless account? Sign up for free here. Just for fun, I’m posting a sketch from the “making of” and a couple images of the design against the Silver tee color, as well as some alternate colors of tees. The colors of the design itself have not been altered here — just the shirt colors. Enjoy!

The Write Stuff

I submitted my first Threadless design last night! It is pending approval, but the page is online here:

The Write Stuff by artandstory

You can check back over the next couple of days to see if it’s approved and available for scoring (I hope you will give it a 5). I originally intended this for Threadless’s challenge for 826 National, but the deadline was midnight last night (Monday) and I only just found out about the contest on Friday, with little time to work on it over the weekend. So… I missed the deadline by a few minutes. Nonetheless, I felt it was a solid design, so I submitted it to the general area of Threadless for scoring. Since the normal cash prize for having a design selected for print is higher than the one for the 826 challenge, should my design go to print, I’m pledging to donate a portion of the award to 826 for providing me with the inspiration.

I’ve experienced the work that 826 National does firsthand, volunteering as a cartoonist for their Storytelling and Bookmaking field trips. It’s usually a class of first- or second-graders. They come in to 826LA’s location in Echo Park, behind the Time Travel Mart, and they write a story. I illustrate it on the spot! It’s given me some insight/reminder of the sorts of things that are bouncing around in their imaginations.

See also: 826 National

Video: Sylvain Chomet discusses The Illusionist

In case you missed the link to the Berlinale Festival page in my previous post or didn’t happen to notice, there is a press conference video on that page from the premiere of Sylvain Chomet’s “The Illusionist” (original story by Jacques Tati).


Click on “Press Conference” to start the video stream and skip ahead to 5:55 for the discussion. Most of it is spoken in English and those parts that aren’t have a live voice-over translation. Chomet talks about the origin of the project, correlations between Tati’s style of directing and directing for animation, possible advantages to producing the story a half-century after its conception, and the inspiration to set scenes in Scotland instead of Prague. If you’re anticipating this film as much as I am, this is definitely worth a viewing. Again, here’s the link.

The Illusionist: Tati via Chomet


I’m excited about The Illusionist, the latest animated feature from Sylvain Chomet (Triplets of Belleville), adapted from an unproduced script written by filmmaker, comedic actor, mime, performer savant Jacques Tati in 1956. I first learned of this project about six months back when I discovered a new title in Chomet’s filmography on IMDb, listing Chomet and Tati as co-writers. I was struck with confusion and elation, and immediately looked for more information about the film, only to find a little more backstory on the origin. The script was in the possession of Tati’s daughter, Sophie Tatischeff, and she specifically chose Chomet to create the film adaptation. She expressed her preference that the iconic image of her father be portrayed and performed on the screen by way of animation, as opposed to live-action. I think she found a sublime match.


As evidenced by its February screening at the Berlinale festival, the film is now complete and I’m antsy to see it arrive on screens in the United States. The stills and clips that are beginning to pop-up are intriguing.

Here is a clip (in German) containing footage from The Illusionist:

A trailer (with russian titles) can also be found here:

And for anyone who’s never seen Tati before, here is a short clip from Mon Oncle:

Bill Mauldin WWII Cartoons

I’m looking at these terrific “Willie and Joe” World War II cartoons by Bill Mauldin here:


“Don’t startle ‘im, Joe — it’s almost full.”

In my previous post, I focused somewhat on the drawing, which I do think is great and the above image is a terrific example, but how about the comedy! The drawing really sells the joke with composition, expression, staging, environment, etc., and all that stuff that contributes to the tone, but if you just strip it down to the basic joke, it’s still a great cartoon and that’s really his genius, I think. Many of his cartoons don’t really make light of a bad situation, so much as they find the comedy amidst a miserable situation. It could also be said that some of the jokes are really low-brow… but they are played so smartly. There is a real joy in that sort of humor.

Bill Mauldin

Wow, I have just discovered Bill Mauldin. Here’s a cartoon of his from 1944:


“Just give me the aspirin. I already got a Purple Heart.”

Why is it I never heard of this guy before? I’m seeing a strong stylistic resemblance to Will Eisner, who I also love. Check out the expressive lines. When I see how a squiggly line can just so perfectly describe something. It blows my mind. I love the rhythmic flow throughout and the mix of realism and caricature/cartoon — a mix of the tragic and the comic. Really fun stuff. I like his approach to the subject matter, too. I’m not big into war stories, per se, but I get the feeling that doesn’t matter in this case. He’s getting to the humanity of things — not glorifying the military industrial complex — and he was there. This isn’t some fantasy fan-boy stuff. He was cartooning about his own reality and of those around him. His honesty landed him a reprimanding or two from General Patton himself. Reading about Bill Mauldin here, here, and here. I’m going to enjoy looking into this further.


I just saw Jim Capobianco’s film Leonardo at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 theater in Hollywood and it was great! It’s an animated short set in (perhaps?) Renaissance Italy, about a familiar-looking character named, um, Leonardo, trying desperately to invent a way to fly (with comedic results). My only complaint is that it wasn’t longer. The gags went by so quickly, I could hardly catch them all. That’s probably a good thing, however, as the film will stand up well to multiple viewings. Anyway, there was some priceless hand-drawn animation in there and beautifully simplified line work overall. I like the idea of a pencil-test sort of look as a stylistic choice for a film. It especially makes sense here, given the parchment or vellum-like treatment serving as backdrop for the drawings — a reference to Leonardo Da Vinci’s own sketches and notes. Ultimately, it is a short and sweet piece that I would like to watch again and again. Big up to all the folks involved!

Trailer is available here:
Jim Capobianco has also kept a blog about the film making process here:

This screening was to qualify the film for Oscar consideration and so I also wish it the greatest success in that endeavor.

Ollie Johnston, 1912 - 2008


I just watched the documentary film “Frank and Ollie” last week for the first time. I knew that these two guys (Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston) were legendary Disney animators and two of the “Nine Old Men.” I also had some idea that Frank and Ollie were good friends. I didn’t know just what good friends they were. What a very special friendship they had. A deep understanding of each other’s minds, immense wisdom and patience and love for life. It’s a wonderful story about two friends, really. And two great people. In addition, they created these wonderful works of animation that are and forever will be such huge contributions to our culture. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Pinocchio, Bambi, just to name a few examples. That’s big. And yet, their contributions were so often such little things when it came down to it. A slight change in expression. The shape of the eye changing, a lean of the body one way or another, beautifully pushed, yet understated mannerisms. And the feeling behind those movements so wonderfully conveyed so that we really feel there is a living entity there, even if only in our imaginations (which is a lot). All embodied by some lines drawn on a piece of paper.

After watching “Frank and Ollie,” which was produced in 1995, I was saddened to learn that Ollie’s wife and his best friend Frank had both since passed away. Saddened after seeing what beautiful relationships Ollie had with these two, I imagined him then quite elderly and alone, but at least he might still have those friends, the trains. I wondered if maybe he was too elderly to care for his trains anymore. Then I learned that his train, the actual, life-size, restored steam engine, had since been purchased by John Lasseter (a long-time friend of Ollie’s). Where was Ollie now? And was he happy? It seemed to me, or so I hoped, that in spite of the loss of loved ones and the difficulties that come with age, he might still find some solace in his living an exceptionally good life. Which means having dear friendships, making a contribution to humanity… and what I saw in that film was a radiant inner joy, peace, and spirit that Ollie seemed to have. Of course, I think it’s pretty unlikely that he was alone. He was living in a long-term care facility in Sequim, Washington. That’s on the Olympic Peninsula, not far from Seattle (where I lived for 8 years), and it’s a beautiful area. The Olympic mountain range is there, Hoh Rainforest, hot springs nearby, Pugent sound to the north and east, and further west is the Pacific Ocean.

Ollie died of natural causes on Monday, April 14th, 2008, at the age of 95.


We’ll miss you Ollie. Your passing puts a final page on the story of the Nine Old Men, but your work and your legend will live on forever in some of the finest animation that we have ever (and may ever) experience.

Jules Engel

I just came across this great archive of interview videos with Jules Engel, “Golden Era” Disney employee, UPA co-founder, and founding director of Experimental Animation at CalArts. He taught Christine Panushka, who would later become head of that same department. I had the privilege to study under Christine when I was 16 and attending the Animation program at California State Summer School for the Arts (at CalArts).
Some of Engel’s other students include John Lasseter, Henry Selick, Tim Burton, and Glen Keane, among many others.

Ice Age

I just saw Ice Age on DVD last night. It was my first time seeing it since its theatrical release in 2002. I remember enjoying it then, but there was a lot I forgot and a lot of new things I think I noticed this time around. The thing I remember enjoying about it in 2002 is its cartooniness. It has a goofy playfulness I love that hearkens back to those Saturday mornings, savoring every second I could of Bugs Bunny and Daffy. It’s character-driven comedy, most of it physical. Some of that is pure slapstick (guy-steps-on-a-rake kind of thing) which isn’t too specific to the character, but the majority of it is derived from and defines/reveals the character in its unique circumstance. Though the comedy may be physical, it’s really telling us something about the mind of that character — something funny.
Which character am I thinking of in particular? Sid, of course! The sloth (pictured above) so geniusly voiced by John Leguizamo. He’s the star of the picture. Not only is he the primary source of comedy in the film, he’s the one driving the whole story forward. What a goldmine of a character. He’s the most manic sloth you could ever imagine, which gets a tad annoying at times, I’ll admit, but heck that’s one of his key character traits. He’s incredibly annoying. The thing is he’s just so funny and endearing while he’s being annoying that we tend to forgive him for it. Also, thank goodness, he is tempered by the cool and down-beat qualities of Manfred the Mammoth and Diego the Saber-toothed Tiger (voiced by Ray Romano and Denis Leary, respectively — wow, Denis Leary down-beat. Who knew?). Also, Sid starts to even seem a bit normal set against the character and running gag of impossibly-manic Scrat the Saber-toothed Squirrel (voiced by the film’s director, Chris Wedge), who is thankfully used just as a sort of seasoning, appearing only for brief periods throughout the film (and making it all the more hilarious).
Leguizamo is so terrific in this role as Sid the Sloth. He seems to really understand what it means to act for a cartoon and the animators really eat it up! I can’t remember what scene it was, but there was this one awkward kind of nervous laugh he does that had me cracking up. There’s so much in the sound of that laugh alone and the subtle little head and eye movement the animator provided are just the perfect micro-storm example of the kind of collaborative performance you can find in animation. Mo-cap has nothing on this stuff! I mean, this is magic. This is the power of raw imagination and talent and a lot of hard work! It’s a joy to watch.

Moleskine Addict

Moleskine Addiction — Stacked
Okay, I think I am officially a Moleskine Addict. Hey, there are worse addictions a person could have! These little babies are perhaps a little pricier than the average sketchbook or journal, considering their size, but what I get out of them in terms of creative and intellectual activity and motivation is easily worth the dollar value that’s put in. Also consider that the “average” sketchbook or journal is usually junk and way more overpriced in relation to its quality than these Moleskines.
Moleskine Addiction - Exploded
Still, I am addicted, there’s no doubt. I’m compelled to buy new books, finding reasons to validate the purchase. The same day that I took the above photos, I later came home with these:
The Addiction Continues...
Some of these purchases are gifts, but isn’t it also a trait of addicts that they look for others to share their addictions with? Those who know me and are closest to me, beware! I may try to make you “one of us.” Like a brain-feeding zombie. To my fellow addicts, you will probably have Pavlovian responses to these photos. If you do get the itch, please don’t scratch too hard! Please be a responsible Moleskiner and have a great weekend, everyone.


After months of admiring the “LOL Cats” cartoons by Flickrpal Ape Lad (aka Adam Koford), I finally ordered one (for only $20 on! The timing couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. My birthday was this past Saturday, September 15th, the very day that my LOL Cats cartoon was mailed. It arrived today on Monday!

What day is it?

I requested that he sandwich the cartoon in some cardboard, because my mailboxes are ridiculously tiny and my mail carrier, disgruntled. He was oh so generous and threw a little extra cartoon on the purple board.


“Mebbe a vineyard asploded?” LOL!!! Also pretty serendipitous, because Jamie and I spent this past weekend celebrating my birthday wine-tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley area of Santa Barbara County. Yes, folks. That’s “Sideways country” — and we did stay at the Buellton Days Inn, or “The Windmill.” This is our second time visiting the area for my birthday. The last time was in 2005. Our favorite wines continue to be made by Daniel Gehrs, who does not own any of his own vineyards, but purchases grapes from various places throughout the region and turns them into bottles of heaven at his winery in Buellton.

Great Grapes

And I got more goodies today! A birthday present arrived from my brother. Wrapped in images of outer space, were two E.T. “Original Collectibles” from 1982. I was E.T. crazy when I was a little kid. These are showing some age, but still in their original packaging. Kinda like me.

The Original Collectibles

Scaredy Cat

Scaredy Cat
This one was inspired in part by this web site with 3D images, turnarounds and cross-sections of animal skulls (here’s the domestic cat). I was not looking at the site when I drew this, however. Thanks to Andrew Shek for the link.